Recent Posts by Jean-Marc Pascal

The Late Philosophy of Bertrand Russell (Part 2)

The origin and nature of ‘belief’ was Russell’s central philosophical preoccupation throughout his long life. In The Problems, he delineates five different causes which are: A spontaneous unconscious inference between a world like ‘fire’ and a physical, verbal, visual or psychological reaction to it. In this respect, such a belief can be found in animal as well as human behaviour as in the case of a cat rushing to his mistress every time the latter calls out the word ‘fish’ ...

Two Conceptions of Philosophy: Williamson vs Scruton (Part 2)

In his response to Roger Scruton’s conception of philosophy, published in The Times Literary Supplement, dated 3 November 2017, Professor Williamson adopts a measured and rigorous approach, expected of a logician and philosopher of language. He first finds fault with his colleague’s assumption that the subject of experience ‘is not part of the empirical world’. What of the study of historical agents whose motivations can, indeed, be analysed scientifically by ‘adapting one’s methods to the nature of the problem (at ...

The Late Philosophy of Bertrand Russell (Part 1)

By the time My Philosophical Development was published in 1959, forty seven years after The Problems of Philosophy, Russell’s ‘realist’ and ‘atomist’ phases had given way to a form of empiricism grounded in the first-hand experience of common sense but informed by Hume’s philosophy and complemented by some of the conclusions of modern psychology. The late Russell continued to object to Kant for placing epistemological knowledge inside the subject, through the ‘categories’ while leaving the extra-mental in the object itself. His ...

Two Conceptions of Philosophy: Scruton vs Williamson (Part 1)

To try and give a definition of ‘philosophy’ is as pointless as explaining how to ride a bike without inviting the person to just sit in the saddle and start pedalling. Philosophy is, first and foremost, a discursive activity and the voluble, often verbose, Socrates is its perfect embodiment. Born at a time of political turmoil and great mathematical developments, philosophy whose natural curiosity touches on every possible subject, soon found itself torn between solving moral and political issues, on ...

The Best Philosophy Books of 2017: Part 2

Two books, selected by Nigel Warburton in his choice of the best Philosophy books of 2017, focus on the best ways to achieve inner harmony and ultimate wisdom. The first one is Buddhism is True by Robert Wright who sets out to critically analyse ‘the science and philosophy of meditation and enlightenment’. Wright who previously traced the evolution of the human brain in his acclaimed Moral Animal, combines here the lessons of psychology and philosophy of religion as well as personal ...

Plato’s Republic and More’s Utopia

Although The Republic was known to scholars during the Middle Ages, the period known as the Renaissance was characterised by a rediscovery and revival (hence the term ‘renaissance’ or ‘rebirth’) of classical antiquity and its model of humanity, based on intelligence, physical courage and moral virtue. Sixteenth-century scholars like More were, indeed, well-versed in Greek and Latin classical authors but their main interest was the study of the Scripture as the key to their theological preoccupations. Thomas More’s Dutch friend, ...

Adorno on Plato’s Concept of Beauty

In one of his lectures delivered in the winter of 1958–59, recently reissued by Polity Press, the German thinker Theodor Adorno, one of the Founding Fathers of the Frankfurt School, discusses Plato’s theory of beauty in his dialogue Phaedrus. With his lifelong preoccupation with the nature and place of culture in Western societies, Adorno repeatedly denounced and deplored the systematic misuse and depreciation of art, reduced to a mere commodity instead of being perceived and experienced as an instrument of ...

The Best Philosophy Books of 2017 (Part 1)

Interviewed for the website fivebooks.com, the popular philosopher Nigel Warburton, author of A Little History of Philosophy and Philosophy: The Basics, recommends five books which, in their variety, constitute excellent guides to five different ways of approaching and studying the subject. His first choice goes to a book on the friendship between the Scottish empiricist David Hume and his friend Adam Smith, famous for his economic theory, developed in The Wealth of Nations, published in the same year as the death ...

Humanist Thoughts for the Festive Season

The festive season is traditionally a time dedicated to the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and the Christian message of love and peace between all men and all nations. This period of self-collected meditation may also become an opportunity for reflecting on the human condition. William James was the first to offer a purely psychological interpretation of the religious experience away from theological dogmas. His approach was scientific and in this respect the American thinker assumed a non ...

Oligarchy and Democracy (Part 2)

Plato regards the descent of political regimes into tyranny as a gradual process in which each type of government is transformed into an even more unjust or imperfect state. The oligarchic man is the son of the timarchic man who has lost his reputation and fortune ‘in some political disaster’. Reduced to poverty, his son neglects the dialectic power of reason which he uses instead to further his selfish materialistic ends. In his craving for money, the oligarchic man ‘is ...

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